Faced with dwindling catches, even in marine-life-rich areas such as the Tañon Strait, fisherfolk and conservation organizations are pushing for the full implementation of vessel monitoring measures.
Case in point is Tañon Strait, the country’s largest marine protected area located between the islands of Cebu and Negros which is also a hotbed for illegal fishing. Although a large part of the narrow body of water is reserved for artisanal fisherfolk or those allowed to fish inside municipal waters within 15 kilometers from the shoreline, large vessels and those with purse seines encroach on the legally protected area.
“It is important to acknowledge that our ocean is in an alarming state of decline. Vessel monitoring mechanism is among the strong measures to track the identity and location of commercial fishers and deter unlawful fishing behavior,” said Gloria Estenzo-Ramos, head of non-profit Oceana Philippines.
The amended fisheries code, or Republic Act 10654, requires commercial vessels to install vessel monitoring measures (VMM) and electronic reporting system (ERS). VMM refers to any method or system that tracks the position, course and speed of vessels at any given time. It aims to monitor the activities of fishing vessels, their catches and landings, detect illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing activities, and manage fisheries resources sustainably. ERS records, reports, stores and sends fisheries data such as catch, landing and transshipment.
The groups believe that if fully implemented, the amended Fisheries Code ensures the preferential access of and protects the rights of artisanal fishers.
According to the Bureau of Fisheries and Aquatic Resources, only 52% of all licensed fishing vessels have vessel monitoring systems. Fishing companies and associations have opposed the installation of VMS, saying it might affect their profits because competitors will know where they fish.
Unfortunately for small fishermen, a June 1, 2021 Malabon City Regional Trial Court ruling declaring Fisheries Administrative Order 266 null and void for being unconstitutional has even been applied nationwide, courtesy of Solicitor General Jose Calida’s advice to the BFAR and National Telecommunications Commission, based on the ruling of a court with limited jurisdiction.
Pablo Rosales, the national chairman of PANGISDA-Pilipinas criticized the lack of political will of government officials and the weak enforcement of laws and regulations that are supposed to protect small fishers as well as ensure the sustainability of our seas.
When government officials are more interested in looking after the interests of big businesses rather than that of small fishermen and our protected seas, it is the country that ultimately loses. Is the rest of government just going to allow this to happen?*